By TOM WITHERS
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is confident there will be a favorable resolution to his legal mess.
Speaking to reporters moments after the Browns began their first practice of training camp, Haslam said he’s “very optimistic” about the outcome of a federal investigation involving fraud at his family’s truck-stop chain.
Haslam’s Pilot Flying J had its headquarters in Knoxville, Tenn., raided on April 15 by the FBI and IRS. Haslam was later accused of knowing about a program to overcharge customers. He recently reached a settlement to reimburse customers who were cheated out of fuel rebates.
Haslam reiterated his ongoing legal situation will not force him to sell the team he took over last August.
“We’re committed to owning the Browns for a long period of time,” Haslam said. “I understand in Cleveland there’s a great deal of uncertainty because of past history, but the fans should not worry. Our family is going to own this asset for a long, long time. We’re excited and we feel it’s a privilege to own not just an NFL team, but to own the Cleveland Browns with all the heritage and history it has.”
Haslam was asked if he would remain in charge of the franchise if he was indicted.
“Let me say this and I think you all have seen this with us and with me, our style is to be very transparent and very open,” he said. “When the government investigation happened on April 15, one of the very first calls we made was to the NFL. We’re in constant contact with them, they have been very supportive in working with us and I’d say we’re very optimistic on the outcome.”
Haslam said the investigation has not been a distraction in rebuilding the Browns and he denied there were any problems with his cash flow, citing the team’s spending in free agency, recent renovations of the team’s headquarters and plans to makeover FirstEnergy Stadium.
“There’s absolutely no worry about cash flow,” said Haslam, wearing a gray Browns T-shirt and brown shorts. “If there was, we wouldn’t be doing the things we were in Berea, we wouldn’t have signed the free agents, we wouldn’t be talking about doing the things we are at the stadium. We’re looking at this as a long-term vision. We want to be successful as quickly as we can.
“We want to build a long-term vision here.”
Haslam is excited about the upcoming season, but cautioned Cleveland fans to be patient with the team’s new front office and coaching staff. He wants the Browns to win consistently and would like that to happen as soon as possible. “You are talking to one of the more impatient people in the world,” he said. “It’s not easy. We were talking today, ‘How badly do we want to win the first game?’ We all understand the importance of that. What really counts is how we perform in the last three games versus how we perform in the first three games. And are we a better team at the end of the year than we were at the first of the year. I think that’s important to all teams and particularly for young teams.”